Programming Engineering All In A Days Work

June 5, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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MONTAGUE — Doing business with Empowered Technologies means working with a two-woman, one-man, one-dog operation.

And Kathie McFarlin and Martha Herman wouldn’t have it any other way.

They run the small machining shop out of Montague and are slowly gaining recognition from many large West Michigan companies.

Along with Marty Grenell, machine operator, in the last year, the two women have built their business into a parts provider to companies such as Rapistan, Howmet, Port City Racing and Dynamic Conveyors.

Beginning a machining business does take quite a bit of know-how, which was something they didn’t know in the beginning.

“We had to attend Mazak School training, which comes with the (Mazak brand) machine,” said Herman.

The Mazak School taught Herman and McFarlin how to use the machine that now creates all the parts Empowered Technologies produces.

Just like any other piece of machinery, the device does require some human interaction — and that comes in the form of a programmer.

Every contract Empowered Technologies receives has either a blueprint or sample part included. From there Herman must either follow the blueprint or create one of her own from the part in front of her.

The blueprint is then entered into the machine’s computer. “The program asks questions along the way about every step of the process,” said Herman. “It will ask the size of the piece, what speed I want it to rotate at, if I want rounded edges, what degree I want them rounded and where each cut will be made.”

After the program is entered in the computer, Herman can then view the actual process digitally, as it will be performed in the machine.

“The computer will show me where I have made a mistake and that way we can correct any errors before we begin making the parts,” explained Herman.

The tool also helps the company estimate how long it will take to create one part and an entire order, thus assisting in developing quotes on entire projects for the customer. It is also a useful because most parts cannot be repaired after they are removed from the mill or Mazak.

“It is very hard to get back to the exact spot where it needs to be corrected and to reprogram the machine to get the desired texture,” said Herman.

Learning to read the blueprints and translate the blueprint code into computer code was a continuous process and one that Herman and McFarlin are still decoding.

Codes include certain numbers that correspond to smoothness, grinding speed, length of part, where to start the process and where to finish.

“If the drill moves too fast or too slow it will result in either breaking the drill (or) the part or cause the part to be not smooth enough in the end,” said McFarlin.

Not only is the company working on obtaining new clients and furthering business in the local arena, but the pair recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women to lobby local senators to vote for the small business bill.

With three people (and one shop dog, Hannah), Herman and McFarlin feel the size of the business is one key factor in staying competitive.

“Often we can get things out in a day. Customers can stop by our shop and drop something off and we can most likely get it out that afternoon, depending on the size,” said Herman.

“We deliver our product to the customer and have face-to-face interaction, something we have the privilege of doing because we are small.”

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